Indie filmmaker Madhureeta Anand used a personal incidence of violence to work towards safety in public spaces for others. She was walking down a prominent street in her city New Delhi at a reasonable hour when an unknown armed assailant attacked her. There was no way Madhureeta could recognise the man if she ever saw him, since he attacked her from behind. She fought with all her might and walked out of the incident with an injury to the head.
More severe was the mental trauma and the fears that resurfaced when her teenage daughter started socialising, as most urban teens do. Madhureeta was so anxious about her daughter’s safety that she would be constantly calling and texting, questioning her whereabouts. “I was turning into the kind of parent I didn’t want to be,” she says over the phone from her residence in Delhi.
Women and trans safety
Madhureeta is a fierce advocate of gender equality and safety. Rather than succumb to anxiety and complain about how unsafe the streets are, she decided to do something that would protect women, transgender persons and men. She didn’t want to constantly call cafes and restaurants to ask if her daughter and their friends were okay.
Considering the diverse range of apps and social media platforms today, she assumed there will be something for rating establishments. However, an online search led to zero safety rating results. Apparently, no one has thought about it before in any part of the world. Most apps geared toward women’s safety are created by men. Instead of creating a safe environment, the emphasis is usually on rescuing a woman from danger.
The filmmaker poured herself into research and came out with the ‘Phree App’, which allows users, particularly women and the transgender community, to give safety ratings to roads, commercial establishments, and public spaces.
Available on the Google Play store to users from around the world, this is a swadeshi app made in India with homegrown technology. Women, trans persons, travellers and parents or anyone looking for a degree of safety will benefit from Phree. “We’ve had 50,000 downloads since Phree launched earlier in 2020. The transgender community in Delhi has taken to Phree in a big way. We have users from all over the world; there are people rating streets in Paris,” says the filmmaker.
16 days of activism
Platforms like Phree are in line with the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence which began on November 25. The annual international campaign is a call to end the destructive impact of gender-based violence on communities. Madhureeta says the goal of Phree is not just safety ratings. The moment you introduce the concept of safety ratings, the focus shifts from the survivor of a gender violence to the unsafe environment. It becomes more difficult to engage in victim-blaming.
How Phree works
Phree has three sections where users can mark establishments, streets and areas for safety. You can mark a particular cafe, restaurant, gym or mall as safe or unsafe too. If a user is near the said premises, the app will send them a little notification stating ‘you’re at XYZ Cafe’, and how they want to rate it. In case, you don’t want to mark at or near the premises, you can do so at home.
In the future, Madhureeta is planning a Phree Plus feature, which will provide relevant local helplines, a forum where you can ask other users questions. Eventually, she hopes that gender-based violence will be a thing of the past, and Phree might be a handy tool for the task.